Gising Barangay Movement


Commemorating Mayor Justiniano Borja's 50th Death Anniversary

Posted by Aris on October 6, 2014 at 2:00 AM


By Manny E. Valdehuesa Jr.

3 October 2014, Tourism Hall, City Hall, Cagayan de Oro City

I think of Mayor Justiniano R. Borja as much for his unique leadership as for the generation he typified in the field of politics and public service.


The Person

Mayor Tinying was not what you would call a traditional politician, or trapo. He wasn’t vain or a show-off, not the glad-handing, quick-to-shake-hands, smiling type. In fact, he seemed shy and was more often frowning than smiling. In other words, he was no ordinary politico.

But he wasn’t cantankerous or crabby either; just a no nonsense kind of person. Not at all talkative, he was given to quiet musing, listening, observing, letting others be. I think it was his brooding silence, along with his habit of watching, reading, or observing that made him well-informed and wise beyond his years. Observant people know a lot and mature fast.

But although he had a serious façade, he had a keen sense of humor, and was quite a punster. He could also be devastatingly sarcastic: I remember the head of the fire department then whose ability was being questioned. Asked to comment, Mayor Tinying said: “As a fire chief, I’d say he’s a good fireman!”—which was like describing a military general’s ability as really more like that of a foot soldier’s.

The Generation

When I think of Mayor Tinying, I can’t help thinking of his associates too, outstanding personalities of the time. There was Fr. James McMahon, president and rector of Xavier U, handsome as Robert Taylor. There was Maning Pelaez, winsome vice president who was on the cusp of the presidency. His brother, Ambassador Jacinto Borja, was Philippine envoy to the United Nations. There was Arsenio Lacson, Manila’s feisty mayor, his buddy and classmate, who was viewed widely as presidential timber. And there was Fr. Pacifico A. Ortiz, S.J., vaunted chaplain of Pres. Manuel Quezon, a native of Surigao, who later became Ateneo de Manila president and a delegate to the 1972 Constitutional Convention.

In Mindanao Mayor Tinying knew the starring Muslim leaders: Domocao Alonto, Duma Sinsuat, Salipada Pendatun, Raschid Lucman, Princess Tarhata, Mamintal Tamano, General Mamarinta Lao, and others who found common cause with him and Vice President Pelaez to form the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan Association, or MINSUPALA. It was launched here in Cagayan in 1960, graced by no less than Pres. Carlos P. Garcia.

Out in Jolo, there was Mayor Aminkadra Abubakar; in Basilan was Mayor Leroy Brown; in Bukidnon Governor Cesar Fortich; in Zamboanga Mayor Cesar Climaco; In Iligan, Mariano “Nano” Badelles; in Zamboanga del Sur Senator Roseller Lim, and many others known to him and who I came to know through him.

In Luzon and the Visayas he was also widely connected, especially with circles identified with President Magsaysay. Ninoy Aquino then was still a rising star out in Tarlac, while Ferdinand Marcos was already hard at work scheming how to steal a march on Malacanang.

Here at home, right along Del Mar and Licuan were the Canoy Brothers, Henry and Reuben, Mindanao’s pioneer broadcast professionals, while the Plazans, Aninipots, Hi-Fis, and the denizens of Tubaan Las Vegas off Gaston Park were coming of age.

The Friend

Of all Mayor Tinying’s colleagues, Ateneo’s Fr. James McMahon stood out. They were two of a kind, great friends, both deep thinkers, elegant speakers, with charismatic persona. Their visions were grand, wide as the cosmos, and their cogitations were the stuff of great sermons. How do I know? I was a junior confidant to both; I was Mayor Tinying’s operative in Maning Pelaez’s presidential campaign, and I was Fr. McMahon’s executive assistant at Xavier U.

The Mayor and the Priest viewed each other as partners. Their attitudes paralleled the special relationship of the city and the university—marked by mutual respect, admiration, and collaboration. They exemplified what an outstanding Cagayano of the time liked to characterize as natural and indivisible; as Cagayan de Oro was the capital of Misamis Oriental, Ateneo was the capital of CDO, and you couldn’t exclude one from the other—the words of Ernesto “Dondon” Tamparong—debonair dean of commerce at Ateneo in those days.

“Man for Others”

Mayor Tinying was an intense person. And his concerns and obsessions caused him bouts of insomnia and migraine headaches—something I saw him endure up close on mornings when I would come upon him curled up in pain in his den. I used to join him early before breakfast so we could talk and coordinate activities before other people came to consume the rest of his day. His den was his favorite spot at home, with a working desk and a library—an adjunct to the main residence where he received visitors without having them encroach on family privacy.

Despite his brooding reputation, he had winsome ways with people, bringing out their better nature, winning their admiration and respect. He inspired them with his unassuming work ethic. Fr. McMahon would remark how blessed Cagayanos were to have such a leader, unspoiled by vanity or unseemly pursuit of power.

And true enough, Mayor Tinying was less concerned about projecting himself as with getting things done. He was less interested in what he termed as the “mechanics of government and the techniques of power” than with ways of alleviating social problems or of inducing development. Self-assured, he knew who he was and what he wanted and didn’t need to spread his name or picture around in order to get respect.

In a way he exemplified what the Jesuits meant by being “A Man for Others.” For me his style evoked Winston Churchill’s view of the ultimate objective of the United Nations: “that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want”—an eloquent peroration he liked when I quoted it.

If he were vain and ambitious, he would have been dazzled by the blandishments of Malacanang and fell in with the political conspiracies of the time. But no, he liked it here and wanted nothing pompous, especially if he could sense being manipulated—as he felt President Macapagal was trying to do to spite Vice President Pelaez.

Mobilizer, Maximizer

He was quite a mobilizer of people and a maximizer of scarce resources, leaving nothing to chance when he had a mind to do something. He would consult, verify information, and call on resource persons and institutions. Xavier U and its faculty were his virtual think tanks. He would take up emerging urban problems with them or invite them to City Hall.


Even the U.S. Peace Corps, which he heartily welcomed to CDO, he tapped for technical advice and assistance—on the water system, on urban planning, on education, development generally. Doing so sharpened his ideas and enabled him to overcome the limitations of the city’s tiny budget—which didn’t deter him from thinking big or aiming high.

For example, when he felt the city deserved a worthy park across from City Hall and adjacent to the Cathedral, he called all the heads of civic clubs to a meeting—Rotary, Jaycees, Lions, Kiwanis, Inner Wheel Women’s Club, etc.—and persuaded them to form a Citizens Committee to undertake the construction of what became today’s Gaston Park.

Together the civic leaders formed the Citizens Committee which devised a lottery to raise funds with a Mercedes Benz Sedan and a house-and-lot as the top prizes—rewards that dazzled Small Town Cagayan. To hype up ticket sales, they printed no more than 2000 tickets and sold them at a premium—which sold out in no time. And so Gaston Park, with its towering fountain rivaling the height of the Cathedral and the City Hall, was inaugurated during the succeeding anniversary of St. Augustine’s Feast Day.





He had many dreams for Mindanao and was frustrated that he didn’t have control of resources or circumstances needed to realize them. His driver, a cousin of mine, would tell of how they would cover large distances at top speed on gravel roads all the way to Iligan and other points to consult and confer, returning same day. At the time, he relished the idea of linking CDO and Iligan by rail as the way to develop Northern Mindanao as an industrial hub while maximizing the Maria Cristina Hydroelectric plants for use by all of Mindanao.


He also wanted to establish a unique school, free and selective, and totally devoted to training professionals for the challenges posed by Mindanao, something like what Fr. Big Boy Masterson did in establishing the South East Asia Rural-Social Institute (SEARSOLIN) at Upper Carmen.


Cagayan de Oro was certainly blessed to have him for a leader. In choosing him to be our first city mayor, President Magsaysay had set for us a high standard of administration and dedication to public service. It’s just too bad that President Macapagal didn’t have rapport with him; what great things could have arisen for Mindanao had he trusted Mayor Tinying.

But it turned out that appointing him chairman and administrator of the Mindanao Development Authority was merely a token gesture. He didn’t give the MDA a serious budget, nor did he assign any priority to Mayor Tinying’s proposals; too bad, because perhaps they could have forestalled the secessionist movement or the idea of a Bangsamoro uprising.

At the least, President Macapagal could have pushed the railway project that would have ringed Mindanao long ago—in the process, facilitate the consolidation of our island region’s multi-cultural peoples into a progressive tapestry.

Strategic Thinker

When he died in 1964 I had just returned to Cagayan de Oro after years in Manila and a stint in Israel on a fellowship. Months earlier, Vice President Pelaez had decided to go for the presidency and I didn’t want to miss a campaign that promised to be as exciting as the Magsaysay candidacy back when I was still in high school.

The biggest hurdle was the Nacionalista Party Convention and Mayor Tinying was key to rallying the Mindanao delegates. His objective: A solid Mindanao vote to offset Marcos’s solid north. So with Mayor Tinying as our master strategist and field commander, the Pelaez campaign waded into the political waters.

It was easy with Mayor Tinying guiding us. He knew what to do. He was well respected even by the politicos in Manila. And he was widely perceived as the one leader who could foil what Macchiavellian tricks the Macapagal, Marcos, Gil Puyat, Arturo Tolentino, and Fernando Lopez forces had up their sleeves.

But tragedy struck so suddenly, unexpectedly, with him still so young at 55! The day we learned of his death, it was as if the air had been let out of our campaign balloon. We were devastated, and shocked, just as we felt when President Magsaysay’s plane crashed in Cebu seven years earlier. Grief enveloped us—at home, in campuses, on streets, in markets, and plazas. I remember thinking how it felt like Good Friday. The terrible migraine attacks I saw him suffer in his den had struck a fatal blow.

Too bad as I had so wanted to play a part in the campaign’s end game and to see Maning Pelaez as our country’s first president from Mindanao—preferably with Mayor Tinying as Executive Secretary and Little President.


He doted on our city and liked to tool around, observing the street action, the markets, the piers, the bus terminals. He even contracted a Manila urban planning firm to prepare the city’s master plan, one that would develop its unique landscape from the shores to the forested hills and mountain passes, and its seven rivers. Too bad that subsequent administrations didn’t follow through.


He loved this city, loved serving its people, loved anticipating their needs—which was why he had the city hospital built; he foresaw how crowded the provincial hospital would eventually become. And to make way for the city’s eastward expansion, he transferred the public market from its original site on Divisoria to Cogon.

He was proud of the city’s cleanliness and sense of order, the streets neat despite the fact that city hall couldn’t afford to deploy garbage cans. What’s called Management by Wandering Around (or MBWA) today was a habit with him—walking the length of Del Mar or Tiano Brothers Street to Licuan, strolling over to Gaston Park, chatting with the habitués of Divisoria.

When he relaxed, he was quite a regular fellow, chummy, and had simple pastimes. I would bump into him at China Restaurant at times, playing pinball machines, next to Yee’s Restaurant, or talking to people at Momong’s Barbershop around the corner.

I especially liked the casual discussions he initiated with the original Plazans at the foot of the Heroes de Agusan Monument across from where the Magsaysay Monument is today.

As a person, as a leader, and as city executive, he certainly had the right stuff and the breadth of vision and it was to the credit of Maning Pelaez and Magsaysay the Guy that they picked him to set the tone and style for CDO’s development.

It was a tribute to him that the City Library had a nice, welcoming feel to it. Just across City Hall and Gaston Park then, he was a frequent user of its book and magazine collections. I recall how on occasion we would troop to the Head Librarian’s desk to check out the new arrivals of books and magazines—only to learn that the choice ones were already checked out or reserved for Mayor Tinying.


During summer, we would use the wide library hallway for practicing dance sequences choreographed by Dottie Pabayo and Nancy Gaane to prepare for cultural competitions with cash prizes. Winning cultural prizes enabled us to cover the costs of our summer sports activities and outdoor adventures like rafting down Cagayan River and trekking along the mountain tracks east and south of the city.


His administration was famed for the civic spirit and morale it engendered. The city was young, the people young at heart, their enthusiasm brimming like the river rafts of today. (In our day, though, the rafts were made of crude banana trunks lashed together by rope or vines cut from the lush vegetation of Mambuaya, Bayanga, or Makahambus cave.)

During Charter Day and St. Augustine’s Fiesta, business and civic clubs would outdo themselves preparing for the festivities. I wonder who today remembers the thrill of watching Cagayanos in gala attire dancing open-air under the sky at Divisoria to the music of the Dangazo Brothers and other bands positioned on corners between Pabayo Street and Burgos Street!

In those years, crime control was made easy with the active involvement of the townspeople—who did not take kindly to disorder or unruly behavior. No thief dared to provoke the wrath of citizen arresters at the first shout of alarm in the neighborhood!

And if Mayor Oca has his Hapsay Dalan today, MayorTinying had his Operation Karate which struck fear into the hearts of would-be violators. Peace and order was assured by the seamless partnership Mayor Tinying forged between City Hall and the citizenry.


Thus did the City of Golden Friendship gain renown and attract ambassadors and Magsaysay Awardees to come and visit and wish us well. And it was no surprise that our city would garner awards for good governance, for peace and order, and for cleanliness.


Mabuhi ang Cagayan de Oro! Ipadayon unta paghinumdum ang kabilin ni Mayor Tinying!


In the early 1960s, Manny served as executive officer of the vice president’s office in Malacanang, as campaign assistant of Mayor Borja in Mindanao, and as executive assistant of XU president James McMahon, S.J., while also teaching history and social science at XU and Ateneo de Manila.


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